Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Together into the Unknown by Maggie Lovins

Sitting down to write this blog a few things came to mind like - Introduce yourself, you are only known to a small percentage of the Southern Region! And Tell your story, after all it is through our stories that we practice our Faith. I then thought, those things are important to convey, but why you are serving the Southern Region's members, and why this is the shape your ministry has taken at this time...?

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

Being Unitarian Universalist in the South

Until a few months ago, I had only been a Unitarian Universalist in parts of the country where there were several UU congregations within an hour's drive. Whether in Metro New York, the suburbs of D.C., the San Francisco Bay Area or Boston and environs, I knew there were faith communities nearby where people embraced liberal religious values.

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!

In faith,

Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith