Sunday, December 15, 2013
By Connie Goodbread, Congregational Life Staff
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. - Peter Benenson
The reason for the season is the human fear that the sun will leave and never return. In the northern hemisphere the sun, the giver of life, light, warmth and sustenance spends less and less time with us as we approach the Winter Solstice. In the Northern hemisphere the dwindling days reach their climax between Dec 20 and 22. In the southern hemisphere it happens between June 20 - 22. The days grow shorter and shorter and colder and colder. Darkness is scary! All humans are afraid of the dark. If the sun does not return to the sky our children starve. Can you even begin to imagine how it must have seemed to our ancestors, the dwindling days, the long nights and the cold. There are more holidays that happen around solstice than any other time of year. Our ancestors built monuments to count the days and watched the sun, I am sure with great fear, hope and anticipation. Some of these monuments were built in hopes of trapping the sun - tethering it to the Earth. Some were built as temples but all seem to watch and mark the days. All seem to try to help us to control the uncontrollable.
The discovery of how to make fire must have seemed like a great human triumph. With this discovery we could at least fight off the encroaching cold and darkness. Gas lamps lit our homes and villages - that also must have been a great leap out of the darkness.
The very first town in the United States to be lit by electric lights was Wabash, Indiana on March 31, 1880. People came from miles around to watch. What must that experience have been like? To have moved from the dark into the light in one moment. It must have been miraculous. I am sure people prayed and cried and were moved to tears.
More than a century later as we move into the time of the Winter Solstice we should take some time to pray, meditate and think about just how lucky we are. Yes, things move too fast and it is hard to keep up with all the changes. Yes, there is great struggle in the world and so there is a great temptation to think that ours is the only generation to struggle. We are still not feeding all the children. We are still mongering hate and cursing one another. We are still at war. But we join the ranks of our ancestors – there has always been great struggle in the world.
If we were watching from a distance - would we see the struggle that is going on now all that differently from what humans have always struggled with forever? Susan Smith and I often say that we appreciate the struggle. We say this about the struggle that happens for Unitarian Universalists as we struggle with our individual faith development. But human struggle, of all kinds, is important. The struggle to be born. The struggle to become as fully human and as alive and aware as possible. Then finally the struggle to let go of this life and move on. Struggle is what life is all about.
We may fool ourselves once in a while, like our ancestors - thinking we can tether the sun and control the universe but it is just us fooling ourselves so that we won’t be afraid of the dark. The only thing we have control over is our own behavior. Luckily we have companions in the struggle - we are all in this together and that is what should give us great comfort.
In this season of love and light - be a light unto the world. Happy Holidays.
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.
Friday, May 31, 2013
Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict -- alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence. - Dorothy Thompson
Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy. - Robert A. Heinlein
Human beings need to be challenged in order the thrive. There is an old Star Trek episode where a nonhuman entity has been keeping a man alive and safe for a long time and can’t understand why he is not thriving and happy. In the movie Star Man the alien says, “You (humans) are at your best when things are at their worst.”
Carl Jung - in his idea of the collective unconscious - thought that human beings go through periods of collective change or evolution when something extraordinary is possible. He thought that over and over again we choose the path we will take. In 1913 he thought that we were at one of these liminal moments and we chose destruction.
Are we always on the verge of something extraordinary happening? Maybe so, but for some time now I have felt like there is something extraordinary happening. I am sure that it is partially where I am in my own faith development. But that can’t be all of it because something - and I use the word “magical “ - happens when a group of people get into a room and agree to work together in trust on something deep. Where I call it magic, Jung might call it the collective unconscious. We are so much more together than we are apart.
This spring I have spoken to leaders in 20 different congregations in our region who are sad because of the struggles that their congregation is going through. Please know that this is not an overly large number. Spring often brings forth new life and congregational struggles, life, after all, is a struggle and making it easy renders it meaningless. Spring is often the time we begin work, in earnest, on staff transitions. Spring is when we report our pledge figures and reestablish our covenant with our Association. Spring is a renewing of energy and a time for looking forward. Spring is a time of change and so we find ourselves often in conflict. What is the foundational, fundamental value that keeps us in a state of creative, rather than destructive, conflict? What is it that we must foster in our culture in order to have an alternative to violence?
I have mentioned Patrick Leniconi’s book The Advantage before - he says the value that is often missing is trust. He says that when relationships break down over and over it is because the team has not taken the time to build trust. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, if we hold trust close and continue to lead from a place of vulnerability and strength, we will better help our community find its way. Please understand that I do not mean that we ever allow ourselves to be bullied or abused. The genuine response to abuse, in any form, is to confront it for what it is and use established processes to take it out of the system. To be honest is to be vulnerable. To be in covenant, we must trust and be honest with ourselves and each other. We are not in genuine relationship if we are not behaving in a genuine manner. Therefore, when we are feeling bullied we name that and find the correct action that will make it stop. When trust is established on any team or fostered in any congregation as a cultural norm then we can be in creative rather than destructive conflict. We will want to stay at the table, in the struggle, being our genuine selves until the path becomes clear. Once the path is clear we take action, lovingly. We commit our genuine selves to the task. We hold ourselves first, and then others, accountable as we blissfully struggle toward our collective goal.
If your congregation is in the middle of a struggle, ask yourself if you trust everyone. Ask if
trust is alive and well in your congregation. Ask if you are leading from a place of vulnerability. Ask if you are being genuine. Ask if there is abuse of any kind happening. Ask for help from the Association if you need it. Call one of your Regional Staff people. Let us help you to lead through the times of trouble, into a vibrant and dynamic future.
The ingredient that we need to add to our Unitarian Universalist collective unconscious or to our magic potion, is trust - a pinch of trust. I trust that we will find our way. I trust that we are more together than we are apart. I trust that we will make glorious mistakes and experience grand successes. I trust that you will forgive me when I fail. I trust that this is the time for us to become.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Multigenerational Summer Institutes:
There are two summer institutes in the South, both held the third week in July.
SUUSI, or the Southeast UU Summer Institute, meets July 21 – 27 near Roanoke, VA on the Radford University Campus. SUUSI is a week of conversation, reflection, activity, nourishment, fun, and family. The gathering offers an opportunity to explore our interconnectedness, learn new ways f seeing our world and each other, and delight in the joys of meeting old friends and making new ones. For more information and registration, please visit SUUSI.org.
SWUUSI, or the Southwest UU Summer Institute, meets July 21 – 26 at Western Hills Guest Ranch in Northeastern Oklahoma. Each year SWUUSI offers opportunities for faith development, education, entertainment, and recreational activities for all ages. Whether it be relaxing in the sun, discussing
in the classroom, or singing in the choir, SWUUSI offers something for everyone! For more information and registration, please visit events.uuasouthernregion.org.
Camps at UbarU:
Located in the beautiful west Texas Hill Country outside of Kerrville, UbarU is our UU Camp and Conference Center. Each year, UbarU is host to three week long camps for UU children and youth. The camps focus on learning about Unitarian Universalism, building and renewing covenant, and having fun in the great out doors. Primary camp for children ages 8 to 11 years old is held June 30 to July 6. Junior camp for children ages 12 to 14 years old is held July 7 to July 13. Senior camp for youth ages 14 to 18 (or 19 if recently graduated from high school) is held July 14 to July 20. For more information and registration, please visit ubaru.org.
Camps at The Mountain:
Founded in 1979, The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center is a non-profit program center, summer youth camp, and a retreat for individuals and groups where people can grow and renew themselves. The Mountain is a beautiful facility located in North Carolina that offers opportunities to connect with each other, nature, and ourselves. It hosts several camps for all ages. For detailed descriptions and registration, please visit mountaincenters.org. The schedule of camps for this summer is:
Elementary Camp I: (Ages 9 – 11 years): June 16 – 28
Elementary Camp II (Ages 9 – 11 years): June 16 – 21
Beginning Mountain Camp (Ages 6 – 8 years): June 23 – 28
Service and Adventure Mountain Camp (Ages 15 – 17 years) : June 30 – July 12
Immediate Mountain Camp (Ages 12 – 14 years): June 30 – July 12
Explorers Mountain Camp (Ages 12 – 14 years): July 14 – 26
Senior High Mountain Camp (Ages 15 – 17 years): July 14 – 26
ASCENDER Mountain Camp (Ages 16 – 17 years): June 30 – July 26
Multigenerationl Family Camp: August 2 – 8
For your family vacation or summer camp needs this year, spend some time in a welcoming UU community, making friends and memories that last a life time!
Natalie Briscoe, Congregational Life Consultant
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Beyond Congregations ( from The SED President’s Annual Report)
There is an exciting amount of work going on throughout our District to examine and build gatherings beyond the traditional church model. There are two (of several) premier examples of this exploration and the Board strongly endorses both of these initiatives.
Mutual Aid of Carrboro: Inspired by a group of committed young adults, Mutual Aid of Carrboro realizes that the tradition of Unitarian Universalism demands that we explore other forms of religious community through which to bring our saving message to the world. Their vision includes
- As a covenantal people, we have a vision of a covenantal society. Relationalism—to each other, to the earth, to that which is larger than us—forms the core of our faith. This is what James Luther Adams called “becoming more fully human.” Enlarging and honoring the covenantal in life is our vision.
- Our vision is that of religious community merged with mutual aid society. Our imperative is to manifest our values in the world, not just in one sphere of life, but in all. In addition, our members are mostly poor and working class people in need, and intentionally creating these sorts of mutual aid structures is vital.
- We are a congregation in which we attempt to build our collective ability to catalyze change. In our UU congregations we focus on different types of growth, from numerical, to spiritual depth, to organizational maturity. The type of growth that our missional congregation is focusing on most can be called incarnational growth, that is growing our capacity to incarnate our values in the world.
- The last part of our vision is that we become a model of a different society, of the world we dream about. Our vision is to experiment with different models of living and of relationship that can serve as models for positive change in society.
They are SED’s newest Emerging Congregation! See the online UUA directory for contact information.
Life on Fire: The purpose of "life on fire" is to gather people who want to live missional lives and provide the inspiration and support for them to take the next steps. The Life on Fire conference will run Friday, September 13 to Sunday September 15 at Oak Ridge UU Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The format will be that of the "un-conference"-- As well as these ad hoc, need-based conversations and experiences, the weekend will include a stream of spiritual direction running through it, allowing attendees to explore their own journeys. In addition, with the support of musician Matt Meyer, "Life on Fire" will include several chances for inspiring large-group worship. Join the Facebook page, Life on Fire 2013.
These are exciting , growing , adventures in Unitarian Universalism. I encourage, implore you to support these ventures by attending, making contributions so others may attend and spreading the good news!
Monday, April 15, 2013
It is one thing to be in our congregations and feeling like we have found “our people” but it is entirely another to be living our faith every day in the world and letting people know that what helps us to face the often harsh environment around us is our Unitarian Universalist faith.
Let’s not be afraid to wrestle with our values like “the inherent worth and dignity of all.” The more we try to live our values, the more they will be challenged, and that is OK. I think we are up for the challenge, and that the struggle is what helps us to be better. We can fail 1,000 times and can come back again. As the 13th century poet, Rumi said,
“Come, come whoever you are
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.”
We come to church to be comforted and to be challenged. We must do both within our walls so that we can go back out into the world ready to do battle with injustice, cruelty and hate. We can do battle because we have struggled ourselves. We have known what it is like to be challenged and confused. We have also known the power of coming together in a circle of love, where differences can be acknowledged but not used to define who we are.
We can have the courage to be bold Unitarian Universalists in the world once we have faced our fears in our congregations. We can let love be our guide to help us confront our challenges. We can learn how to stay at the table when differences appear insurmountable. We can keep hope alive for ourselves and others as we walk together on this one fantastic journey.
I think it is fitting to end this posting about bold Unitarian Universalists with this from Universalist minister Olympia Brown.
“Stand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals, which has comforted us in sorrow, strengthened us for noble duty and made the world beautiful. Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message, that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost. Go on finding ever new applications of these truths and new enjoyments in their contemplation, always trusting in the one God which ever lives and loves.”
In faith and love,
Kathy Alden McGowan
Monday, April 1, 2013
|"From Promise to Commitment"|
2013 UUA General Assembly Theme
• Among some people, looking another in the eye as you speak shows respect and trustworthiness; in other groups, to do so is impolite, even aggressively hostile.
• I come from the Midwest where raising your hand to speak at a group meeting is the “right” thing to do; elsewhere, that is seen as a silly encumbrance to the free exchange of ideas — interrupting, talking over one another is just fine; to me, that’s rude.
Those are comparatively easy illustrations. But what do we do when someone in our congregation behaves in ways that leave many emotionally unsafe — such as:
• Belligerently interrupting a sermon?
• Threatening members of the congregation with violence (yes, it happens)?
• Hugging that is, well, more than hugging?
• Gossiping maliciously or sending e-mail “flames?”
How do we stay in community honoring the dignity of each person when some inadvertently or even willfully cross a line into rudeness or a bullying posture? Are there no limits to our tolerance of “odd ducks,” as one member said to me?
A carefully crafted Covenant can help guide us during such times. My dear colleague, Eunice Benton, former Mid-South District Executive, calls these efforts an attempt to describe “good manners.” An effective covenant not only names what we can expect of each other, it also gives us permission and guidance when one person’s or group’s demands endanger the community.
The word covenant appears in English in the 14th century, derived from the Latin convenire, meaning to agree to come together. Thus, a covenant is simply an agreement, or promise to be together. It’s about our intentions and promises of how to be together. More nuanced meaning suggests that it is an unenforceable, but binding commitment to do or not do certain things together. The marriage vow, I promise my faithfulness, is the most familiar covenant. The bond of friendship is another. A covenant makes explicit what is normally implicit in a relationship.
Historically, this notion is central to the Free Church. We solemnly bind ourselves — not to agree and enforce a creed — but to be on a journey, seeking an ever better understanding of life’s truths while working for love and justice. A favorite covenant of mine comes from our congregation in Salem, MA (still using a modernized variant of this 1629 phrasing) which promises “to walke together in all God’s waies, according as he is pleased to reveale himself to us in his Bless word of truth.”
Next summer in Louisville, our UUA General Assembly will focus on From Promise to Commitment: “Promises call us into relationship. The experience of making, breaking and remaking promises is the reality of our lived faith. We will gather in Louisville to examine and renew our covenant to our faith, one another, our congregations and the larger world.”
Covenanting or promise making is easy to say but hard to live. We have yet much to learn. This is good work for us to do, for, as Dr. King said, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
Come to GA (details here: http://www.uua.org/ga/) . Let’s get clear about the promises we make to one another in a beloved community. We will transform ourselves, our congregations, and possibly our world.
I’ll see you there. Kenn
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Dwight Brown Leadership Experience is in Dallas August 4th - 9th. The information will be on the website very soon.
We had a wonderful Southern Unitarian Universalist Leadership Experience (SUULE) at the Penn Center in South Carolina. It was cold and the hot water didn’t always work but the place was charming and filled with meaningful history. We had a great group of congregational elders that came from three of our four Districts. We had a fabulous staff, some of whom came from other regions to work with us and give us feedback. While our philosophy remains the same and we always teach Unitarian Universalist Theology and Systems Thinking, how we teach evolves. The evolution happens in concert with the needs of the group and in relationship with the elders present. The three learning styles; visual, auditory and kinetic are taken into consideration. We practice small group ministry with three different types of small group experiences. We have deep experiential worship and share a variety of spiritual practices. At this SUULE we had a great dance. Everyone worked hard. Everyone learned something. Everyone is changed.
It was easy while we were all together to be emboldened about our faith. It was easy to dream big and see how what we have is important, deep, meaningful and life changing. It was easy to see that we need to be more outspoken. We need to affect more of the world around us. It was easy to share openly and freely. It was easy to learn. Then we left the company of those willing to be in loving relationship with us as we struggle with our learnings, doubts, fears and longings. We went back out into the world where we are too often assaulted by all the injustice and weirdness that abounds. How do we sustain our boldness? How do we move forward in love to do the work of our 3rd smooth stone, which calls us to build the just and loving world? How do we love all of creation, even the parts that we do not even like? This is not easy.
I think it might be helpful if we remember what our joy is when we are together.
This year at SUULE:
- We were humbled beyond words because we were learning, sharing and struggling in the same space where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and John Lewis had met, planned and worked for justice.
- We were overjoyed at having found one another.
- We were grateful and felt blessed by the leadership, wisdom, energy and truth that was present and alive in great abundance.
- We felt we had widened our circle of kin.
- We were moved by the deep sharing we experienced.
- We were grateful for the changes we saw in ourselves.
- We were awestruck by beauty and wonder in us and all around us.
- We were moved by knowing that we are part of something larger than ourselves and grateful that we are not alone.
- We were grateful for open minded, not like minded, Unitarian Universalists.
- We found insight and pieces of the puzzle.
- We discovered the importance of trust.
- We were grateful for the challenges.
- We cherished sharing our faith.
- We were re-energized.
These are only a few of the joys written on the small slips of paper and lovingly placed in the joy basket. It was surprising and delightful that many of us were joyful about the same things. I think that these joys are often the same joys we have when we find our first Unitarian Universalist congregation. They are the joys that we feel about any beloved community. They are the truths that sustain us.
What mighty things might come to our aid if we were bold enough to be honored to be where we are, and grateful to be with the people we are with, and open to all possibilities and always learning? How would we walk, how would we talk, how would we act if we thought that the whole world needs a bold, strong and vibrant Unitarian Universalism, they just don’t know it yet?
Sunday, March 3, 2013
The Unitarian Universalist Association is not a denomination, but rather a collection of independent congregations who choose to be in deep relationship with one another. According to two of our organizing documents, the Cambridge Platform and the Orlando Platform, congregations have an obligation to help one another embody the Faith of Unitarian Universalism. In order to live this ideal out in our Association, we gather together for the good of the Faith at conferences, annual meetings, and General Assemblies. We send our Elders – meaning those people in our congregations who are able to teach Unitarian Universalism and keep our covenants – to neighboring churches to aid in their growth and development. We share with one another the ways in which we choose to live our covenants and participate in joint efforts of social justice and meaning-making.
As I see it, my job is not to provide congregations with added services or to put on regional programming, although this perception is common through the former district model and is certainly not out of the sphere of what I will spend at least a portion of my time doing. My main job, however, is to bring the Cambridge Platform and the Orlando Platform to life by connecting congregations and Elders of our Faith with other congregations and Elders. We are not a hierarchical faith; we need to rely on each other. I am here to help those connections happen.
In the upcoming months, Kathy McGowan and I will be contacting the congregations in the Southwest Conference to assist in the many transitions that are occurring right now and ensure that the congregations in the west of our region are fully served. After these transitions are complete, the entire HalelUUjah Staff Group will be working as a team across the entire region to strengthen connections, congregations, and clusters as we build Beloved Community together.
I look forward to many years of serving the Southern Region and getting to know each of the Southern Congregations in the process. It is a pleasure and a great honor to be in covenental relationship with you, and I look forward to growing our Faith together! HallelUUjah indeed!
Friday, February 1, 2013
FREE Services! Most of the consultations which don’t incur additional costs have to do with the transitions of religious professionals:
Start-Ups: This is a 1 or 2 day process ideally held 3-6 months after the religious professional (minister, religious educator, administrator, music director, membership director) is called or hired. Working through this process will get religious professionals, leadership and congregants on the same page for what a successful year together will look like. Don’t let the name fool you, this doesn’t need to be done the second your new religious professional darkens your door. This process is helpful at any point during a ministry, but especially if done within the first 2 years.
Exit Interviews: When you know one of your religious professionals is leaving, don’t hesitate to call about setting up an exit interview. The exit interview is a healthy way for the departing professional and congregation to share appreciation as well as learnings that might make the next relationship even better. The exit interview culminates in a report written summarizing a snapshot taken by the consultant. In addition to the great information gleaned from the interviews, the report often has suggestions on positive ways to move forward.
Other consultations available for $75/hour: As always, if the consultation is not particular to your one congregation (and truly, few are), inviting other congregations from your cluster can defray costs and build relationship: win-win!
Board Retreats: Need a facilitator for your next Board retreat? RE Council Retreat? Give one of your Southern Region Congregational Life Consultants or the Southern Region office a call! We’ll direct someone your way.
Conflict: Nobody likes to deal with conflict, right? Au contraire. We have consultants who LOVE to guide communities dealing with conflicted situations. Well, love may be too strong a word – they certainly have the skills to help. Not that faith communities EVER get caught up in conflict, but if yours happens to, give us a call SOONER rather than later. We’ll help you assess the level and possible ways to deal with whatever comes up in a healthy manner. Sans conflict, if you’d like to set up a Concord (opposite of conflict) Team, we can help with that as well
Covenant Building: This is a covenantal faith. As we strive to live in covenant with one another as well as congregation to congregation, it means calling ourselves and others back into covenant when needed and being able to forgive – not accountabilities Unitarian Universalists are particularly practiced with, right? Whether you need to start with a behavioral covenant or are ready to become a truly covenantal community, our consultation can facilitate the process.
Sabbatical Covenants: Congratulations! Your congregation is a responsible employer and you have provided the opportunity for your religious professionals to take sabbaticals! Now that the time is approaching for one of their sabbaticals to begin, please give us a call so we can help facilitate a covenant between the congregation and the religious professional. Covenants at departure AND re-entry are key to sabbaticals being a positive experience for all involved.
Shared Values/Mission/Vision: Ready to embark on the exciting adventure of figuring out where your congregation fits in this crazy world of ours? Our consultants will lead you in a shared values exercise so you can begin talking with one another at a deep level about what matters most. From there, we can continue to work with your congregation in creating a vision and mission grounded in your shared values and (dare I say it?) theology.
Smart Church: Putting her many years of systems work with Peter Steinke to amazing use, Connie Goodbread has developed a Unitarian Universalist version of Steinke’s Healthy Congregations program called Smart Church. Our consultants can provide training for the leadership of your congregation or cluster on this systems approach to being the best congregation you can be.
Stewardship: Need a new direction when it comes to stewardship? Hint: it’s less about money than relationship. Our consultants can confer with your board/stewardship committee/leadership to help you jumpstart the perpetuation of this faith through a stewardship consultation.
Other consultations and workshops: Examples of other more specialized services we can provide include but are not limited to Listening Circles, Campus Ministry, Non-Violent Communication, and Youth Ministry. If there is something in particular you need that is not listed in this article, just give us a call. Chances are we can help with that, too.
I’ll conclude with a big shout out to all our Halleluujah Consultants – thank you for serving this faith so well!
Monday, January 14, 2013
Here's (some of) what we know about effective stewardship: We know ...
- Commitment follows good ministry. And good ministry is a matter of clear purpose to effectively use our shared gifts to make a difference in our members' lives and in the world about us.
- Stewardship is not about "What's in it for me?" It's about "What difference shall we make?"
- Generous giving is a spiritual, heart-driven matter. Budgets matter are planning tools and statements of priorities and values. But no one gives to line-items.
- People give to people, not to pieces of paper. A pledge is not just filling out a card of intent, it is a conversation by which leaders remind members of how their gifts were used (well, one hopes) and how forth-coming gifts will both sustain prior commitments and move the ministry to some new level of effectiveness.
- There is a level of giving that arises out of loyalty and duty. But greater generosity comes out of excitement for how additional resources will make new things possible. We know people want to give to success and to aspiration. Again, it's: "Tell me, what difference will my gifts make?"
- A one on one meeting, the historic "canvass-call."
- Small groups discussing the ministry, followed by each participant pledging at the end of that.
- "Celebration Sundays," sort of a pep-rally service which includes members making pledges all at once.
- (Far less effective) Sending letters or e-mails (as though pledge was agreeing to pay a bill), or leaving cards out on a table with exhortations to turn them in.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
The Southern Region of the UUA is pleased to announce that it has added two new Congregational Life Consultants to its staff. We look forward to serving our congregations and spreading Unitarian Universalism in the South with them!
Natalie Briscoe received her Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000 where her focus was on learning and perception across the lifespan. She received her Master's degree in counseling and human development from the University of North Texas in 2002. She has served as Director of Religious Education for two churches, one in North Texas and one in Seattle, Washington. She also served the Southern Region as a Healthy Congregations Consultant and as a Youth Ministry Consultant. This year Natalie received the Ruth Clark Award for service to Unitarian Universalism from the North Texas Association of UU Societies and the Norma Veridan Award foroutstanding contributions to Religious Education in the Southwest District. She is married to her best friend, Sean, and the couple welcomed their first son Ian to the family last June. Natalie has a passion for playing roller derby, rescuing pugs, and serving Unitarian Universalism.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
What would happen if we were generous with and about Unitarian Universalism?
By Connie Goodbread
I am going into my eighth year as Field Staff for our Association. One of the regular responsibilities of the job has been a monthly newsletter article. When I first began the job and had more than one District newsletter, I thought it would be easier if I had a theme. I had just finished compiling the Unitarian Universalist Healthy Congregations supplement, entitled The Smart Church. I thought that I might stay with that concept and write questions that helped focus my attention and stimulate my thinking. The question above was the first one I asked myself. What would happen if we were generous with and about our faith? What would we need to change or do differently? How would my thinking and behavior change if I were truly generous with and about our faith? It is the question that I have come back to over and over again in the past eight years.
I think living with a generous heart is its own reward. I think that generosity leads to many things. If we are a generous people we are also a grateful people. If we are a generous people we are a trusting people. Have we been generous, grateful and trusting? Was the consolidation between the Universalists and the Unitarians based in generosity and trust? For far too long we have asked “What do I get for my pledged money to my congregation? What do we get for the money we send to our Association?”
Our Unitarian Universalist Association is us - you and I and our congregations at our largest presence in the world. It is our opportunity for greatest impact on and contribution to the world. So the question is not what do I get for what I pay, but rather, is our Association doing the work of building the world we dream about? Are we affecting the world in a positive way? Are we doing what we are called to do?
As an Association we have developed powerful curricula, such as Our Whole Lives and Tapestry of Faith. The Standing on the Stand of Love campaign has had an impact on other denominations, law making, elections and human rights campaigns. We make significant contributions to trauma relief during disasters. We have initiated humanitarian outreach all over the world. We are at the forefront of immigration reform and civil rights.
It is as an Association of congregations that we have our biggest impact. As individual human beings and congregations the work is exhausting and lonely. It is a much richer experience with a greater impact on the world if we do the work in community, as an Association.
We are entering into a pilot program for funding our Association. It is called Generously Investing For Tomorrow - GIFT for short - and it is a bold new approach.
GIFT recognizes that our presence beyond congregations is not a hierarchy but is the “connective tissue” that enables us to share information, resources, and inspiration, empowering us to reach the wider world. We are ready to build community, take responsibility for our Association, and strengthen our capacity for outreach. - Bill Clontz
Here is how the GIFT Program will work. Instead of District and national requests, there will be a single request, to be shared by the District/Region and our national Association. The amounts pledged by each congregation may vary somewhat from the earlier formula (some more, some less, some the same) but the overall amount of Associational money is about the same - this is not an increase overall.
The goal is for all congregations to pledge 7% of the congregation’s certified expenditures, not a per member contribution. GIFT will begin on July 1, 2013 and together over the next two years we will collaborate, learn, evaluate, and fine-tune the process. We think that it provides a simpler, more covenantal way for congregations to support our Associational work. We are hoping that if you have any questions you will contact us (my email address is above). We also hope that you will stay in relationship and help us to develop the GIFT Program. As we enter into the pilot program I continually come back to - What would happen if we were generous with and about Unitarian Universalism?