Monday, December 2, 2013
I am in love with Unitarian Universalism. It makes me very sad to think that we are such a small denomination. I believe that the world needs us. If there were more UUs living out our faith in our lives every day, the world would be a better place. I truly believe this.
What do you say? Are you ready to get generous with UUism? I mean really generous. It might mean giving up something that is dear to you personally. It might mean giving up something that is important to your friends. You might become uncomfortable during worship on Sunday mornings because it has changed. You might have to get to know people that you are not sure you want to know.
What if we cared more about changing the world than we did about having “our wonderful church” for ourselves each week? What if we started to be known as that church that uses American Sign Language interpreters all the time, or the one that pipes in the service to the local homeless shelter. But perhaps that is not thinking big enough.
What if our Unitarian Universalist congregations were the ones called when the local community needed to hold a real dialogue on difficult issues. We might be the ones called because deep listening is one of the values that we hold so dear that we have trained compassionate communicators, mediators and facilitators to help our communities.
We might value hope so much that our congregations become the think tanks for alternate ways of living. If we lived out the value of joy, we could be the congregations where people drop by in the evenings because “it seems like there is always something fun happening at that place”. Maybe our commitment to compassion has been so strong that we have become the place where lower, middle and upper classes now gather to strategize on how to work together to battle the common enemies of poverty and racism.
I am probably not thinking big enough yet. I am not being generous enough with Unitarian Universalism. I need you in order to think bigger. How generous can we be with our faith to truly make the world a better place?
Friday, November 15, 2013
By Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Staff of the Southern Region
Fall is my favorite time of year! The holidays are just starting to get into swing. The weather turns colder and colder. Our thoughts turn to memories of autumns long past.
While it seems that time would slow down, that our home and church lives would draw inward and enter a time of hibernation, we know that the opposite is true. Holiday parties, fundraisers, family obligations, and the possibility of guests and travel can be, while exciting, exceedingly stressful as well.
Thank Goodness for Thanksgiving! One of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving – and the entire season of November, if you are observing the 30 Days of Gratitude on Social Media this month – is more than an opportunity to gather loved ones, eat a big meal, watch some football, and fall asleep on the couch. It is a chance to contemplate and cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our daily lives and our work in congregations. It is an opportunity to turn our thoughts to the abundance around us and be grateful for the work of others, for how far we have already come, and for the wonderful resources, both human and divine, that sustain us.
How would we go about cultivating an attitude of gratitude in our lives? We could start by focusing on the positive, by giving voice to what we have instead of what we are always lacking. We could find ways to express gratitude to those around us and whom we often take for granted. We could write thank you notes to those closest to us, or tell them each evening one thing that they did that we appreciate.
In our congregational lives, it is particularly important to foster an attitude of gratitude. As we deal with what appears to be limited resources, we often forget how abundant our joys really are. We can begin by voicing our gratitude about our community to one another, having time to do so in the worship service, making gratitude the focus of check-ins in small groups or religious education classes, and making it the subject of our newsletters.
The benefits of intentionally practicing gratitude are endless. Taking on gratitude as a spiritual practice has been linked to longer life, a greater sense of well-being, longer-lasting happiness, and a greater sense of optimism in general. As a community, a focus on gratitude can increase connections to that community and a greater sense of belonging. And of course, an attitude of gratitude increases instances of altruism and generosity.
To kick off the season, some of your Southern Region Staff would like to express our own gratitude:
Maggie Lovins says she is particularly grateful for the way in which the Southern Region Staff has come together as a tight knit Team! The level of support the Staff is now able to give to congregations is directly informed by this kind of teamwork. She is also grateful for the evolution of our Faith and Association, the future looks healthy and bright and she feels blessed to be a part of it.
Glenn Johnson says, among the many things he has to be grateful for, that he is particularly thankful for his sweet and loving wife of 30 years, and his good health.
Susan Smith is grateful for leaders who show up on Sunday to be nurtured and inspired rather than hold impromptu business meetings or skip worship altogether.
And I am thankful for a career that lets me serve my Faith alongside so many other amazing leaders and for a family who is infinitely supportive in my calling to this career.
Thank you all for your leadership and all you do for Unitarian Universalism. You inspire me!
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
I serve North Florida and the state of Georgia as first contact staff representative, along with anyone in the Southern Region (SR) who calls and needs assistance. My partner Chad and I live in Pensacola, FL with my beloved service animal, Daisy Dog. I attend Starr King School of Ministry and plan to continue my call to ministry working with lay leaders, congregations and helping to build collaborative bridges wherever they are needed. Speaking of collaboration, I want to share one of my favorite quotes with you,
"What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful." Mother Teresa
With that quote in mind I offer you four words of peace; you are not alone. Short, sweet and to the point - you are not alone! In your committee, on your Board, in your congregation, in our Region and in our Association, we are never alone! How fantastic to know you are knee deep in joys and struggles with people of all colors, identities and spiritual beliefs. Unitarian Universalists are such independent thinkers and doers, all having special projects that set their hearts ablaze, making their eyes that particular shade of shiny, so that together our actions are working towards realizing the dream of Beloved Community. Yes, the struggle still stinks, but it's better when we have partners with us, and truth be told, the only real growth is in the struggle.
With all this talk of Regional Collaboration, the four District Boards moving towards a new leadership model and all of the changes at the UUA, I can understand how someone could say, "Hey pull this bus over- I'm not sure where it's going- or if I want to go!" To this I reply, "You are not alone!" Change is inevitable, it can be scary and anxiety triggering to some, but to others it is an adventure, an expedition into unknown territory where wondrous things can and do happen! I will openly admit being in that second category, but I fully understand the other as well. I guess most of my 'worries' are soothed knowing I am doing this work with SO many others aspiring for a better tomorrow. More allies mean a greater chance of success when doing the hard work, plus many hands make light work, right?
So, why am I serving the Southern Region members? Because I believe - I believe in the work, I believe in the people! Why has my ministry taken this form at this time? Because collaboration, teamwork and cooperation are needed right now and I am a firm instigator of them all! We don't just have 4 District Executives and a few other UUA staff members to support our congregations; we now have a whole team to assist your congregation serve its members! We have 7 Congregational Life Staff, 2 full time administrators, a part time event coordinator and a part time IT person! Wow! Our district lines are now more like the dotted lines on the highway, allowing us to move in and out of whatever area needs us and it allows the SR Staff to operate as a fully functional collaborative team. This is the adventure I was talking about; it is the same adventure Connie Goodbread wrote about not too long ago, to boldly go where the Southern Region has not gone before!
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together..." African Proverb.
I wish to go far and the need is great. This is your personal invitation for us to go together; are you ready?
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Then, after being gone from living in the South all my adult life, I joined the UUA Southern Region staff and returned to live in my hometown -- Holly Springs, Mississippi. Now I'm part of an inspired team that travels to congregations and meets with ministers and lay leaders, all in service of our Unitarian Universalist values. I am the 'first UUA contact' for all the congregations in Mississippi and Alabama, for most of the congregations in Louisiana and Tennessee, and for Pensacola, Florida. However, I am available as needed on behalf of the UUA across our region and beyond, especially in matters regarding our shared social justice work and building UU communities beyond congregations.
I am inspired by the ways you have sustained liberal religious community in this religiously conservative part of the country. I share your commitment to vibrant, meaningful relationships within congregations, and to powerful witness for our faith in the public realm.
The Unitarian Universalist journey in the South is different from other places I've lived. Its deep racism gave rise to courageous nonviolent action during the Civil Rights Era. In the 21st century, as in generations past, Unitarian Universalists are answering the call to engagement regarding the issues of our day, including immigrant advocacy, LGBTQ justice and economic disparity.
Thank you for your partnership. I'm looking forward to working with you in the days that lie ahead!
Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith
Monday, September 16, 2013
Friday, August 30, 2013
The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dwight Brown Leadership Experience (DBLE) was the best ever. No, really! I know we say that every time, and for every class it is true. I know that because the information is deep and in some ways challenging because it dredges up feelings. It dredges up feelings in all of us. For me, and I am not sure why, this particular DBLE was very moving. Maybe the effect it had on me comes from this being my 12th Leadership Experience as staff. Maybe it was because they have not all been so wonderful. Maybe I see it differently now. Maybe it is because I won’t be there next year. I don’t know why I was so moved. But I was moved. I was moved to tears more times than I can count. I don’t cry easily so I found myself pretty amazed. I was moved by stories I have heard, and even told, many times before. I was moved by the willingness of the people to come into community. I was moved by the struggles of others. I was moved by my own struggle.
So I am on the plane headed home. The sun is setting. The clouds begin to become that sky-blue/pink that only happens sometimes if we are lucky at sunrise and sunset. The rays from the sun become more and more slanted, and, in no time at all, the clouds are on fire below the wings of the plane. There were no flames or smoke like there would be with a forest fire, only billowing branches of cumulonimbus clouds mimicking tree tops, orange treetops. It looked as though we were flying over a forest of peach, coral and orange trees. Then in the top branches of one of the tallest cloud trees, a rain circle appears like a god’s eye hanging on a Christmas tree. It forms and becomes solid. I hold my breath and then slowly it fades as the sun sinks lower and the plane moves out of its exactly correct position. Wow, I say out loud. Tears begin to form in my eyes. Then I think - What a pretty little planet. What a miracle of creation. How lucky am I to have witnessed this? I am so in love. I am in love with creation. Faces of beloved people appeared in my mind - my family first and then the faces of the people I had just been with. New faces. Faces of dear friends. Their eyes. Their shining eyes.
People cannot spend their whole lives on the mountain top. People must come down into the valleys and get their hands dirty in the soil and deal with the things of life - but for every moment that I spend on the mountain top, for every moment that is filled with possibility, for every time I get a small look at the magic all around us, I am profoundly grateful.
I would like to thank the staff of DBLE. Thank you - we all worked really hard. We work hard every time, that is not new. But I think that all of the work we have put into the last 12 experiences are beginning make a difference. I think next year’s DBLE and SUULE will be even better. I would like to thank the participants who taught me more than they will ever know. I am grateful to each of you for the time, thoughts and heart you poured into the experience. I am grateful for the deep sharing we did. The theme for this year seemed to be, “Why am I telling you this?” We shared in a deep way and made ourselves vulnerable. We were open to all the possibilities and each other and that was why we shared so much of ourselves. Most of all I am grateful for the struggles. Most came out okay, some are still up in the air and some will most likely go on for a long time. I am so very grateful for having had shared struggles with you all. Thank you for staying at the table. BEST DBLE EVER!
Thursday, August 15, 2013
By Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Consultant for the Southern Region.
Growth. It is on most church leaders' minds. The mention of the word can either elicit excitement or groans depending on your particular perspective.
Usually when we are talking about growth, we are speaking about growing our numbers, usually by way of converting visitors into members. This type of growth, called Numeric Growth, is just one of four main kinds of development that we are aware of in the congregation. And while many congregations focus on this one type as an indicator of health and vitality, Numeric Growth is merely the result of the other three kinds.
Organic Growth refers to the infrastructure that we build in our congregations to support a growing membership. Organic Growth can take the form of a change in governance structure, adding staff, re-writing the by-laws, or adding physical space to the building. It is about developing practices and putting systems into place which support the acceptance of new members into the life of the congregation.
Maturational Growth refers to the depth of understanding of our shared Faith within the congregation. Opportunities for Maturational Growth may include small groups, listening circles, religious education classes for all ages, or a sermon series on aspects of Unitarian Universalism. It is about developing an inviting and engaging lifespan faith development program that is able to reach new and long-time members alike.
Incarnational Growth refers to the congregation's willingness and ability to live out their shared values. Incarnational Growth may take the form of a strong social justice program, being recognized as a Green Sanctuary or a Welcoming Congregation, partnering with the Red Cross to become a disaster relief shelter, offering addiction ministries, or providing an LGBT Prom for the community. It is about incarnating Unitarian Universalism in the world.
Focusing on Organic, Maturational, and Incarnational Growth leads to Numeric Growth. When we put structures in place that support membership and give every person an opportunity to deepen his or her faith and live that faith out in the world, membership grows. In reality, however, we can focus on all of these kinds of growth in all of the ways listed above, but the results will only be short-term unless the congregation that is gaining membership can also embrace change.
When membership in a congregation grows, the relationships between the members and their relationships to the called and hired staff changes dramatically. There will inevitably come a time when the membership is very economically, culturally, and theologically diverse. A time will come when it is impossible to have a relationship with everyone in the church, as well. If a congregation is not prepared for these changes, it will continue to grow to a certain size and then lose membership again, as if it is hitting a glass ceiling.
These issues in a congregation can be complicated, and it may take a variety of different solutions and options before a congregation is ready to break through their plateau and create long-lasting, meaningful, and effective changes that leads to stable growth. Luckily, there is an opportunity to explore growth and change in your congregation in November in the Southern Region!
Please join us at Fall Harvest Training this year in Glen Rose, Texas from November 8th to November 10th where we will explore growth and change in the congregation through our theme of EvolUUtion! We will have seven tracks that delve deeply into all aspects of growth and change in church life.
For the third year, we will be offering the EvolUUtion Camp for children ages 5 to 13 where we will explore the Unitarian Universalist Creation Story, which is nothing short of the creation of the universe and evolution itself. Youth ages 14 to 18 are invited to participate in any track which will be beneficial to their ministry as youth leaders, including, but not limited to, the Youth Chaplaincy training. A full track listing with detailed descriptions and registration information can be found at http://www.uuasouthernregion.org/falltrain2013.html.
We recommend sending teams from congregations to get the full benefit of the program! Special housing rates are available for Youth and Advisors of Youth. We hope to see you there!
Friday, August 2, 2013
Friday, June 28, 2013
Friday, June 14, 2013
Some of our congregations are still shutting down more or less for the summer, even though this is a great time to provide fun and educational ministries for your congregants and your neighbors. The mystery of why we reduce our activities in the summer goes back to our Bostonian roots where it was necessary to leave the city and move out to the Cape or the Catskills to avoid epidemics of disease in the muggy, unsanitary urban environments. As far as I know, most of us have no such need for the practice now.
When I served as a parish ministry, I looked forward to the summer because those long daylight hours provided a luxurious amount of time for those who don’t drive at night to attend evening activities and because our busy families with no school obligations have time to participate in multigenerational programs. There is ample time to have a coffee gathering or small group ministry before the workday begins for the larks and mild nights to gather around a campfire with instruments and poetry for the night owls.
Before we had our very popular Hogwarts Camps, we used to provide Peace Camps or Science Camps in the summer and invite the community to attend. At the SWUUC Fall Leadership Training, we are providing an Evolution Camp to fill possible gaps in the education of our children, and I would hope to see these duplicated. While we often schedule these programs for a week during the day, it accommodates the desire of families to spend time together to offer them in the sunlit hours of the evening or as a weekend retreat. One of the best I’ve ever attended was a Saturday in which folks of all ages prepared for and held a Parliament of All Beings. These are great programs for a cluster of congregations to offer together.
Summer is a nice time to bring people together to share their hobbies with others. Fishing? Birding? Crafting? Gardening? Reading? There is something about summer that rests our minds just enough to make us open to new experience and gives us the patience to persist in learning. It is this openness that I do not like to squander.
The mind sufficiently rested to be open is fertile ground for faith development. Not only are the newcomers who have moved into your community seeking in the summer, but all of us are to some extent available to be amazed, engaged and fascinated. Worship can be less formal and at the same time more impactful. We can provide a safe space for worship services that are a bit more right-brained or more body than mind. We can approach the same transcendent value like peacemaking or agape love or Mother Earth in a dozen different ways. It’s summer, and we have the time.
Thank you all so much for the opportunity to take my wonderful sabbatical. If you want to see what I was doing check out my sabbatical website at www.fixintolearn.com.