Monday, April 14, 2014

At the Core Is Love

by Maggie Lovins, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

Amid all the noise in our lives,
we take this moment to sit in silence—
to give thanks for another day;
to give thanks for all those in our lives
who have brought us warmth and love;
to give thanks for the gift of life.



It’s that time of year again! The flowers are coming out of their long slumber, the days are warming up a bit, the sun is sticking around longer in the afternoon... and one of the surest of signs to a Unitarian Universalist that it truly is spring - the annual canvass/pledge drive! This is the time of year, for many of our congregations at least, where we pledge financial support to our congregations, and they in turn pledge to our Association. I don’t need to go in to whys of the process, we all know why we need to pledge. Yes, the lights need to stay on, the mortgage needs to be paid, the Administrator, DRE and Minister need to be fairly compensated, but beyond that, our pledge is another aspect of our covenant to one another- we promise to help take care of our Faith in all aspects and to be good stewards of it for the next generation of Unitarian Universalists.

This is also the time for District Assemblies and Congregational Meetings. Time to vote on new officers, bylaw changes, new long range plans, for some it might be time to vote to call a new minister, but for all of us it should also be a time to remember why we come together “amid all the noise in our lives.” I mean, why do we give 2 hours or so most every, if not every week, to our chosen Faith? Why do we sit in committee meetings, board calls, canvass trainings and the like when our daily lives have become so hectic? Now in reality, some folks really do love meetings, the collaboration, the brainstorming, the governance, the challenge, and there are some that enjoy a good argument as well. Others are not so much like this, but they give freely and openly of their time, treasure and talents just the same. You all give of yourselves, you chair our RE committees, serve coffee on Sundays, edit newsletters, visit our members when they are unwell, and the list goes on and on. We need all of you and so many more to help move us towards the Beloved Community! But we still are left with the question of why we do it? Why do we come together as we do not have a guilt driven ‘do it or else,’ punishing type of Faith.

We know we are on our pilgrimage here but a brief moment in time.

I wonder, could it be as simple as Love? A little four letter word that I personally hold to be my only capitol ‘T’ Truth, could that be the unifying reason we gather? Our congregational and Associational polity declares we need not hold shared beliefs, but I would venture to say that this is something we all believe in. Not the pie in the sky,
Pollyanna type of “All you need is love” (sorry John, Paul, George and Ringo, I still love ya!) but one of the most basic elements necessary for a healthy human existence, the one thing everyone seeks and some are blessed to know, what I would say is at the core of who we are as Unitarian Universalists.

So if Love is at the core of who we are, why we are, and what inspires us to gather, how do we enact that Love to reach out? Do we take it to the streets? Do we take it to our schools? Do we take it to our government? Do we take it to our prisons? Do we take it to every corner of the world and let everyone we come in contact with know that this is who we are and what we believe? YES! Yes, we do- we ARE the Love people remember?! Now, how do we give it away to every single soul in need, to every single person in pain, to every single human being paralyzed by anxiety? We do it together. One step at a time, one social justice outreach at a time, one food pantry at a time, one piece of legislation at a time, one humanitarian effort at a time.

Let us open ourselves, here, now,
to the process of becoming more whole—
of living more fully;
of giving and forgiving more freely;
of understanding more completely
the meaning of our lives here on this earth.


~Tim Haley, Worship Web UUA.org


To do this work will take the hands of many, and our continued gathering in and outside our congregations. Why the continued gathering of our congregations you ask? Because that is where we manifest and synthesize the Love to take to the world! That is where the never empty font of Love, Justice, Compassion, Equity and Interdependence lives, in our Unitarian Universalist communities! I invite you to summon Love in to your everyday life, in to your every action, in to your every word. I invite you all to be the change you wish to see starting now! I invite you all to gather in a spirit of “Love Reaches Out” and join your fellow Unitarian Universalists in our first ever simultaneous Southern Region wide District Assemblies starting April 25th. May you know Love, may you give Love, may you become Love.

Namaste,
Maggie Lovins

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Smart Church: All the Difference

By Connie Goodbread, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

I call that church free which enters into the covenant with the ultimate source of existence. It binds together families and generations, protecting against the idolatry of any human claim to absolute truth or authority.
- James Luther Adams

For a long time we thought that we should focus on how Unitarian Universalism was like other religions, what all religions had in common.  When we taught about our faith we looked for the likenesses we shared with other faith traditions.  For a long time people who came into Unitarian Universalism defined themselves by what they were not.  I am not a Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, or Baptist, or I am a recovering Catholic, etc.  For a long time we have been unable to teach Unitarian Universalism.  We suffered from the Buddhist idea that if you name something as big as God you diminish it.  So how could we say what Unitarian Universalism is without diminishing it?  And yet, how can we have deep discussions about our faith with one another, let alone with people of other faiths, if we cannot talk about what Unitarian Universalism is?

That is the struggle isn’t it?  What is Unitarian Universalism?  What is the truth, the wisdom and transcendent value at the center?  What makes it different?  What makes it great?  What makes it important?  What makes it worth your dedication?  What makes it worth sharing?  What is in Unitarian Universalism that we hang onto in times of joy and times of sorrow?

Ours is a living tradition. As a living tradition we are asked over and over again to reexaime our path, our faith, the truth, our assumptions and our work.  Do we love deeply enough?  Are we not merely tolerant but accepting?  Is our service to others or for our own glory?  Who cannot hear us because of the way we speak?  What is the next challenge, mine, yours, ours?  Are we supportive and not enabling?  Are we kind, trusting, forgiving, humble?  I know that can be exhausting because there is so much change.  I know there are times when we are tempted to look for what is sure, what is solid and never changing.  But - life is change, how it differs from the rocks. - Jefferson Airplane.  Because ours is a living tradition we must hit the refresh button often.

Ours is a pluralistic faith.  We do not believe there is only one way or one path to truth and goodness.  Rather all paths that lead to a loving heart are good paths.  There is no fundamentalism in Unitarian Universalism.  There is not one right way.  We covenant to walk  in the ways of love.  We covenant to uphold our values and support one another in the struggle.  We covenant to build the world we dream about.  We covenant to accept different ideas and theologies and to allow room for doubt.

In our living tradition there is no orthodoxy.  Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal not a creedal faith.  Therefore, there is no demand for people to adhere to one way of relating to the holy, the divine, or the wonder of creation.  Unitarian Universalism does not insist that to be a part of the faith all must be bound together by belief.  Rather we are bound by our deep and abiding promise to support one another and care for the world.  We are bound by love to serve.

Unitarian Universalism is a faith that teaches that revelation is open and ongoing  We do not believe that revelation is sealed.  We believe that each of us has a relationship with the divine and anyone can be touched by divine thought and inspiration.  We believe that all are worthy and all are saved.  We believe that life is sacred - all life.  We are not waiting to be saved.  We think that what we have here and now is important and that how we live together on this lovely little planet matters.  Everything is holy.

These four pillars of Unitarian Universalism (living, pluralistic, covenantal faith - that teaches revelation as open and continuous) speak to the difference between our faith tradition and some others.  While we have much in common with what is at the heart of all great religions (love), we differ with each on at least one of these Unitarian Universalist ways of manifesting love in the here and now.  Our good news of hope and love is worth sharing.  Our way of living out that hope and love is also worth sharing.  It needs to be given away with open and generous hearts. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring Cleaning!

By Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Staff for the Southern Region

Even though snow still blankets some areas of the United States, Spring is just around the corner! The Spring Equinox is on March 20th this year, which means warmer weather, singing birds, and beauty blooming all around us. We've already set our clocks forward, and the days will continue to get longer and longer as another sultry southern summer begins to wind its way into our lives. Spring is a wonderful time full of energy and new beginnings. Many of us choose to take advantage of this energy to do a little spring cleaning; it's time to wipe the dust off the furniture, shake out the linens, and let the sunshine in!

As I'm knee-deep in clothing for our annual give-away spree that our family does every spring, after a full day of digging in the closet (an aerobic activity on par with a triathlon, if you ask me), I started thinking about some of the ways in which congregations may want to go on a spring cleaning spree. In our home, we get rid of clothes that no longer fit or are no longer wearable, food that has expired in the pantry, and general clutter around the house. What are some things congregations might want to get rid of during Spring Cleaning? There are hundreds more that I can list in one article, but here are some ideas:

  • A mission that is uninspiring, inaccurate, or old. The mission statement of a congregation tells everyone who sees it just how that particular congregation has chosen to incarnate Unitarian Universalism on earth. The congregation is the means, not the end, so your mission must be inspiring as well as informative. Why are you here? What do you intend to do? How are you making the world a better place? If your mission statement doesn't answer those questions – in the span of one simple statement rather than a paragraph – then it might be time to throw it out.
  •  A vision that is too small, old, or doesn't lead you to where you want to go. If a mission is what you feel called to do, then a vision is what you feel called to be. How does the congregation see its future? Where will it be in 50, 60, 75 years? A vision should be grand and bold and big enough to include people projects you can't even imagine yet. It should be exciting and worth working toward. A congregation should be willing and able to update their vision at least every 3 to 5 years, with input from new members who have come to your congregation during that time. If you have a vision that isn't bold, big, and broad, it may be time to throw it out.
  • An old Covenant that isn't practiced in your congregation. Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal, not a creedal Faith. The covenants of our congregations should be rooted deeply in our shared core values, and we should know what it looks like when we make them, break them, and reaffirm them. Inviting newcomers into our covenant is how we extend our hand of fellowship to them, and knowing and living our covenants is how we practice our shared Faith. If you have a covenant that is old, dusty, ignored, out of sight, or obsolete, you may want to throw it out and make new promises to each other.
  • Processes that no longer serve the congregation. Has your congregation outgrown your committee structure, governance style, or communication processes? For example, a growing congregation can benefit from formalizing processes such as their path to membership and path to leadership or elderhood, which can clarify the ways in which new members can deepen their relationship with Unitarian Universalism and become integrated members of the congregation who feel their gifts and talents are appreciated, useful, and contributing to the fulfillment of the mission. In contrast, a congregation that has grown or has not evaluated its structure and process in a long while can enter what is called “maintenance mode,” where the focus is not on what the congregation can do together, but rather how it can survive through the next month. If you are experiencing burn out, problems recruiting volunteers, stagnant membership, a lack of enthusiasm, or the feeling that it takes quite a bit of work and time to get even the simplest ask done or the easiest decision made, it might be time to throw your old processes out!
  • Along with old processes, how about Old Technologies? Are you still using a membership database from 1994? Do you still have yahoo email groups for your congregation? Do you still print and mail your newsletters? Throw it all out! The internet, social media, and new database systems have infinitely streamlined our churches. We no longer need to waste our time with these outdated technologies. When we throw them out, we can get onto the more important business of saving the world.
  • Silence around financial issues. Does your congregation have anxiety when it comes to speaking about money? Is it considered impolite or uncouth to ask for pledges? Does your congregation conveniently leave the stewardship topic out of the conversation on membership? It's time to throw out the silence and start having honest conversations about what we can realistically do to financially support Unitarian Universalism in our communities. There are no tips or tricks; we just have to do it!
  • And finally, what about all that clutter? Clean out that office, those file cabinets, that RE wing full of dry markers and empty glue bottles! Let's make room for the sunshine, for the future, and for our good news to spread far and wide!

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Meaningful and Missional Life

by the Rev. Susan M. Smith

As I write, I’m preparing to fly to Tulsa for the second Life on Fire conference about “missional” ministry and sharing in the work of Rev. Ron Robinson at The Welcome Table. Last month, the North Texas UU Congregations had Rev. Nathan Hollister challenge that cluster to envision creating “missional” outreach such as his own ministry Mutual Aid - Carrboro (Unitarian Universalist), NC. What is “missional?” A group of people fully awake and making a real life and death difference in the world.

Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with Revs. Daniel Kanter and Aaron White of First Unitarian Church of Dallas and hear some big “missional” dreams which could be supported by any cluster or congregation. What if some UU with a large and largely empty home invited a few people into covenantal community with her, and they all embarked on a life of ministry? What if those folks declared that in the six blocks surrounding that house, no child will be without a place to get a snack and help with homework after school, no elderly person or person living alone will go unnoticed, no trash will blow in the street, no neighbor will lack help to meet the emergencies of life and neighbors would have a place to gather in conversation and celebration? Now, what if a cluster of congregations could start one, six or a dozen such projects? Or what if your congregation itself was that place?

We often use the book More Than Numbers: The Way That Churches Grow by Loren B. Mead in our regional leadership experiences and presidents’ convocation. To be “missional” as that term is used today is part of what Rev. Mead calls incarnational growth – how are our congregation’s values are making a difference in the world.  What our neighbors can tell about us by reading the messages we post and observing our actions and interactions.

Many Unitarian Universalists are yearning for a life of more meaning and impact. They want to advance our values and make a difference. They want to live more deeply in our faith with others who are trying to understand and advance the religious legacy that we are carrying forward. The words we church folks use for this now are “discipleship” and “neo-monasticism.” When we talk about “elderhood” in our modern movement these are the callings and gifts that we mean to honor and support.

But here’s the tricky part, the “higher” you go in the pursuit of religious calling, the lower you get in the eyes of the world. It’s the paradox of servant ministry. Ministry is plumbing some days. It is picking up trash over and over again. It is dealing with people who are hard to love and turning once more the other cheek.  It is one more opening the building and turning on the heat and lights. The difference between ministry and drudgery some days is what you believe you are doing and why. Do not waste a minute grousing about what was or what is. This is the time for action and what we as individuals living in interdependent covenantal community can become. You (Yes! You!) are the light of the world.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Collaborative Annual Assemblies


by Rev. Carlton Smith, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff member
Gather in peace, gather in thanks
Gather in sympathy now and then
Gather in hope, compassion and strength
Gather to celebrate once again
The chorus of Jim Scott's hymn "Gather the Spirit" came to mind when I thought of our Southern Region's first-ever collaborative Annual Assemblies between our three districts and the Southwest Conference, April 25-26. Our coming together will reflect our connections within our parts of the region, across our region and with our larger Unitarian Universalist Association, featuring a keynote address by recently elected UUA moderator Jim Key.
Jim will address delegates that Saturday morning from across the region live via the internet from the Clara Barton District. He will speak to our shared theme, "Love Reaches Out", which is also the theme of our Association's General Assembly in Providence, RI, June 25 -29. Jim will share his vision for what regional collaboration can mean for Unitarian Universalism, as we celebrate the progress we've made so far.
The Annual Assemblies and their locations are: 
Florida District -- Vero Beach Unitarian Universalist Fellowship;
MidSouth District -- Unitarian Universalists of Metro Atlanta North (UUMAN)
Southeast District -- Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh
Southwest Unitarian Universalist Conference -- First Unitarian Church of Dallas
We, your regional staff, are coordinating with the District and Conference boards to create an inspiring weekend at each site.
Come prepared to give thanks, to celebrate, and to share the hope, compassion and strength of our Unitarian Universalist faith.
 
Yours in service,
Carlton

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Another Creation Story

By Kathy McGowan, Congregational Life Staff

 

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”

     - Charles Dickens

 

At the heart of congregational life is creation. It is helpful to view ourselves as co-creators instead of problem solvers. Creating something has an energy to it that is different than that of tackling a problem or constructing a solution. As leaders we work with others to bring life to our projects (even if it is re-writing policies and procedures). At our best we are making environments that unleash creativity. The process itself gives a sense of purpose and joy.

 

I have been blessed to be a part of some amazing creative processes in my life.  It is not always fun. I have learned over the years that it is okay to get stuck.  It is okay to disagree.  Some of the most creative ideas happen just after being really blocked or in big disagreement.  Being able to stay at it and wrestle with this stuff in critical. It is through the struggle that the best ideas come. You must let wild ideas fly in order to get out of the “stuckness."  It is out of this wildness and abandonment that we tap into the places in ourselves where wonder lies.  We can find gems that really help us move forward if we let ourselves get a bit crazy in our thinking. This outside the box thinking only happens if we can keep our judgment at bay.

 

One of the beautiful things about congregational life is that we are never alone. It really helps if we can bring a sense of play to the work. As new people enter into the process we can look at them as new “playmates” in our collaborative sandbox. When people are filled with trust for one another, and trust the process to which they are involved, unexpected things happen that make the experience rich.  It is magical.  I long for those moments.  It is in these moments where I feel the most connected to life.  

 

These times affirm things that I hold dear:


Love and openness hold the keys to the universe

I am part of a magical universe 

We all have access to it the sacred

It is though working together that we create beauty

 

Our congregations are our sandboxes; our fertile ground.  These are beautiful places to create. Find joy and playfulness in the process.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dreaming and Experimenting in 2014


by Maggie Lovins, Congregational Life Consultant

As we move in 2014, many of us have new goals, new resolutions or aspirations for a new way of being. We often start off with mass amounts of enthusiasm and gusto only to have this momentum wane in the coming months. Whether this waning is due to daily life ‘getting in the way’, lack of motivation, or the goal not being realistically achievable, I would like to give us all a reminder to be gentle with ourselves. We as Unitarian Universalists hold ourselves, and others in most cases, to a very high standard. With this in mind we must be more comfortable with allowing ourselves to experiment and to stand on our growing edges to imagine what could be.
 

As Kenn Hurto explained in his last blog post on Jan. 3rd, the concept of “experi-fail” is being discussed at many levels of leadership. I like this concept for many reasons, mostly I appreciate it's permission giving. “Experi-fail” gives us ‘permission’ to step out in Faith, to take risks and try new things without the focus on failure, but on the adventure of discovery to come! Utilizing this thought process gives ourselves, and others, permission to unfurl our wings and see exactly how high and far we can fly, it gives us permission to go boldly into the next phase of being Unitarian Universalists. It is this part of permission giving that allows our fear or anxiety to fall away. If we were to rid ourselves of the fear of showing we are truly human and fallible, and the anxiety of possible judgment for not reaching that goal of 100% what could we dream?

Experimentation does not always spell success, but the lessons we learn from what does not work are just as valuable as the lessons of what does work. We learn what is not the right course of action for a particular situation, what variables need to be changed, and as long as we are learning, as long as we have grown from the experience then we have not failed!

If we removed the anxieties of perfection for just this year, what could we really accomplish? How deep could we really go? What good works as a Faith community could we achieve? Maybe one of our resolutions should be to experiment more and worry less about the perfection of the outcome. I invite you to ponder these questions and others that arise in your meditations on how you could use the “experi-fail” concept in your personal and congregational lives. And then, when you’re ready, step out in Faith knowing that success is as great of a probability, (and maybe even more when we stop second guessing ourselves!), as failure when you allow yourself to experiment, be bold, innovative and courageous!