Friday, June 28, 2013

Kenn Hurto's blog for 7/1/13 Southern Region newsletter

Promises, Promises …

“Does your congregation, does our shared faith, have a claim on you? Does belonging to a Unitarian Universalist congregation require anything of you?”

I began a workshop with those questions. The room went silent. After some fidgeting, one person offered, “Couldn’t we say ‘recommends?’ ‘Claim’ is … well so demanding.”

This was a room full of committed Unitarian Universalists. Yet, they squirmed at the notion belonging to a free church meant they had obligations — even though they were there committing a whole day to reflect on how to strengthen their ministries.

My answer: “If your congregation, if our faith does not make a claim on your time, talent, and treasure, then why bother? If we are to make a difference in people’s lives, we need to be upfront that ministry requires an investment of heart, soul, and resources.”

Summer is often a time for congregational leaders to take stock of things. This is a good thing, essential before you begin planning your next program year. The question brings us back to our promises. Did we fulfill our expectations? Did we deliver what the budget said we would? Have we made any difference beyond our doors? Are we growing as a people? As a congregation?

Too often, the question of performance review is put only to paid staff. However, it should be put to all members. Have you been faithful and are we more full of faith than previously?

The Free Church expects people to grow spiritually. Yet, too many get stuck in the “I don’t believe…” phase of spiritual deconstruction. They remain focused on rejecting and not tolerating anything with which they disagree. This leads to a creeping creedalism that breaks the promise that there shall be no test of right belief in our congregations.

We are here to grow souls. This is a demand, a claim: “Thou shall not hold endlessly to a negative attitude.”

At the center of our ministry assessments, we should ask: What are we for? To what are we committed? What do we promise? Are we growing souls and bringing more love and justice into being, among ourselves and in the larger society? 

That’s what we say we want to do. It is a promise that makes a claim ourselves, on each other, on our leadership. So, how are you doing?

Rev. Kenneth G. Hurto, Lead Congregational Life Consultant for the Southern Region

Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer is Prime Ministry Time by Rev. Susan Smith

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