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,

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.